Tangible evidence

Our last family photo, taken by Deb Schwedhelm
The dreaded angelversary post @ +3 years. 

Here's a quick rundown of things going on. 

I left my VP Marketing post at RealAge in May of this year. I've been doing some project-based consulting and talking to start-ups and other companies as I decide what to do next. This also gave me time to help Melissa on Touch A Truck (which was a raging success as you might have read, so much so that we're moving to a much bigger venue for next year), as well as help out with the Neuroblastoma Symposium (photos | videos) hosted by the NMTRC, which is headed by Giselle Sholler, a familiar name to long-time readers of this blog. The NMTRC - along with Sholler's lab and Dr. Sholler herself - recently moved from the University of Vermont to the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids Michigan. Will's dad gave a great inspirational speech at the Symposium which you should watch here.

We spent some quality time together as a family in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range. The ethereal benefit of time spent outdoors in nature is something our entire family enjoys and values. A collection of waaaaaaay too many pictures is on our Shutterfly site, but this one captures the essence of summer vacation spent in the Sierras.

On Tioga Pass Road, West of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. The road climbs to over 10,000 feet with jaw-dropping vistas at every curve in the road.

Started 7th grade yesterday at Earl Warren Middle School in Solana Beach. She tested for 8th grade honors algebra (at the end of summer no less) but just missed the score cutoff and is glad for it, so she'll be doing regular ol' honors pre-algebra instead. She also got her elective choices: digital arts and surf PE. Yep, she gets to leave at 12:15 every Wednesday and Friday and go to Del Mar for 2+ hours in the water. The flip side of this is that unless it's raining, you're in the water, no matter the temperature (or thickness of your wetsuit)! Should be fun.

Hannah also spent two fun filled weeks at two separate sleep-away camps. Since 2008 when she was in 4th grade, Hannah's been attending Sibling Camp at Camp Reach For The Sky, which is in part underwritten by the American Cancer Society. CR4TS Sibling Camp is just for sibs of cancer patients. She also went to Forest Home for a week with our church. Hannah's a "camp kid" for sure and loves how she can be just "a kid" at camps such as these.

Started 1st grade on Monday. Last year he grew in so many ways. He's a really goofy, really sweet, really smart kid. Thanks to older sis Hannah tutoring him, and his very precise, no-hurry manner of doing things, he scores totally high in math and reading. That same cautiousness spills over though into sports where he's pretty slow to try new things, but once comfortable goes for it. Nicky is the torchbearer for the spirit of Max and does amazing things such as explaining to kids he knows who Max is, and what happened to him. It's truly amazing to watch him tell a 6 year old that Max is his older brother, that he died from cancer, and yet his spirit still lives in our hearts. 

from Melis: Summer has been filled with touch-a-truck follow-up as well as getting a bigger venue and date for 2012. We've also teamed up with Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for this year's Max Run and I've been working diligently on promoting and planning with my peer at Alex's. I've decided it's time to get back into the workforce and am actively pursuing employment. Summer was indeed a great time taking the kids to the beach with friends and family, play date trade-offs with Nicky's friends, and watching Hannah turn into a pre-teen. Today, Max's Angelversary, has been a day of steady reflection for me. We've been gearing up for it for a week (I can't explain that any better), and this morning without thinking I donned my "Max" shirt. About an hour later I looked in the mirror and was pleasantly surprised. When I dropped Nicky at school, his new teacher gave me a hug and two mom's stopped me and let me know that they were thinking about our family today. Lisa emailed us to let us know that the Sturt's were wearing orange today. Nice surprises like these visited me all day. In honor of Max we baked cookies and took them to the hospital, where we received a warm welcome and a tour of the whole new childrens oncology center. I had only tried visiting one other time since Max's passing and I nearly had a panic attack. I miss those nurses - you guys know who all are. You were very good people to be with when my boy was sick. You were caregivers to me, too. The new facility at Rady's is beautiful and much deserved for all our warriors. Tonight I'm going to open our box of Deb photos and look at each one. Reflect. Smile. Probably cry. 

Is going to be a very busy month. For those that didn't know or forgot, it's not breast cancer awareness month despite the amount of pink being promoted already. It's Childhood Cancer Awareness Month - the President even said so. Since it's back to school season, think about the 46 children diagnosed with cancer every school day. 4,000 kids will die this year from cancer. We talk a lot about the number of lives lost in war and terrorist attacks. We are less comfortable talking about a comparable number of kids who die every year from childhood cancer. I'm just sayin'...
  • From Sept 21-23, Washington DC is the hub for childhood cancer advocacy and awareness efforts. You can see everything that's happening on the PAC2 website or by going to www.ChildhoodCancerWeek.com
  • I (Andy) will be in DC for these three days, mostly focused on the Fall PAC2 Workshop which is an invitation-only opportunity for collaboratively-minded childhood cancer foundations and individuals around the country to come together and network, discuss projects that are currently being worked on, and decide which projects should be worked on next. It is really the beginning of the entire childhood cancer community - of which there are thousands of organizations and individuals - working together under the banner of common cause and purpose.
  • Returning from DC, we will join hundreds of San Diegans running and walking in the Max's Ring of Fire Lemon Run, which raises money and awareness for childhood cancer. This is the second year we've held a run in September. Last year's Max Run was a success, but we wanted to use the run as a platform to reach more people and also to begin collaborating with other childhood cancer foundations. So we teamed up with Alex's Lemonade Stand and launched the MROF Lemon Run. You can read more about ALSF and MROF joining forces on this blog post I wrote for the Lemon Blog, and you can register here for the MROF Lemon Run and join us as we honor and celebrate Max, Alex, and the thousands of other kids and families affected by cancer every year.

Feel Good Story of the Month - Our Kids Can Teach Us More Than We Think Edition
Earlier this summer we were contacted by someone who lived in our neighborhood and whose kids attend the same school that Hannah, Max, and Nicky all went to or go to now in the case of Nicky. The kids wanted to sell their old children's books that were no longer appropriate and donate the proceeds to Max's Ring of Fire. The other day a checked showed up at the PO Box for $100. Accompanying the check was this note. Pretty cool. Thank you Max and Ally - you guys rock!

Feel Good Story of the Month - Back to School Edition
A friend called Melissa on Monday - the first day of school in our elementary district. Her son Ethan had attended preschool with Max, but not together since they went to separate elementary schools in the same district. After 4th grade, the district then feeds our two elementary schools into a standalone school solely for 5th/6th graders. Max would have been in 5th grade this year, and thus Ethan and Max would have been reunited. When dropping Ethan off for the first day of 5th grade, he was looking a bit uneasy. When asked by his mom about how he felt, he replied, "a little bit happy, a little bit sad." His mom asked why. "I'm happy that I'm starting 5th grade. I'm sad because I was supposed to meet Max here."

Why is this a feel-good story instead of a feel-bad story? I suppose its how you look at things. It's based on a psychological phenomenon universal to anybody who's lost a loved one, but amplified for a parent: we want people to know about and remember Max. About the only thing an angel parent fears, beyond losing another child, is that their child who has died has been forgotten. Ethan provided tangible evidence to two parents who needed to know he has not been forgotten.


Max's visit

No, not literally of course. But a good sign. A very good sign.

Many may remember Mashed Potatoes For Breakfast - the blog Deb Schwedhelm wrote that chronicled Max's battle with neuroblastoma from April 2008 until August 2008.

One of Deb's first posts was from her initial Mikulak family photo session in April 2008 at Marion Bear park.

After the session, Deb captured what has since been titled The Angel Print.

Two weeks ago, when we were in Mammoth at the tail of our summer vacation, I looked up from our motorboat that we were putzing around Lake Mary on, to see this cloud looking amazingly like The Angel Print that Deb had captured 3 1/2 years earlier. I immediately grabbed my 'Crapberry' and was able to capture most of the cloud formation before it dissapated (windy that day in the Sierra's).